Top Army Sergeant Outlines Transformation, Promotes New Uniform
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 14, 2005 In addition to making the Army a more sleek, deployable force, transformation will add predictability and stability to the lives of soldiers and their families, the Army's top noncommissioned officer said in an interview with the Pentagon Channel.
The Army has three primary initiatives in the transformation process, all of which aim to increase the number of deployable units and take pressure off soldiers and family members who have had to deal with back-to-back deployments, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston said June 9, in an interview leading up to the Army's 230th birthday today.
"We can talk about being more expeditionary -- being able to get to the fight quicker; we can talk about being more relevant and ready as a force; we can talk about being modular; but a lot of that doesn't mean a lot to the private first class, the specialist, the sergeant, the spouse of a staff sergeant," Preston said. "What transformation's going to do for them is give them predictability and stability."
The first initiative the Army is working on is restructuring divisions by adding brigade combat teams, Preston said. There were 33 BCTs at the start of 2004, and the goal is to have 43 by the end of 2006, he said. Last year, brigades were added to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Ky.; the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y.; and the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga. Three more BCTs will be added in 2005 and four in 2006, Preston said.
The second transformation initiative is increasing the number of low-density, high-demand career fields, such as military police and psychological operations, which traditionally have fewer soldiers than other units and are needed more often for deployments, Preston said. In the next two to three years, 100,000 to 115,000 soldiers in the active Army, National Guard and Army Reserve will be taken out of high-density, low-demand units and put into the high-demand units, he said. The intent of this initiative is to rebalance the force and reduce the number of deployments soldiers in high-demand units are serving.
The third initiative is to increase the active-duty force by 30,000 soldiers, Preston said. Within the last year, the Army has gained the authority to increase its force, and that will be done through recruiting and retention efforts.
"Our goal is to get there as quick as we can," Preston said.
Soldiers in the BCTs and their families will have even more stability in their lives through the "life-cycle management system," Preston said. As new brigades are formed, they will be put into a system that will keep them together for three years. All the soldiers will stay in that unit for the full three-year cycle and will be encouraged to stay for another cycle after that, Preston said.
"The goal is to have soldiers spend five to seven years in one place," he said. "But the possibilities are there for even more time."
The new life-cycle system will allow military spouses to be more stabilized in their careers and will give military children the opportunity to be competitive for college scholarships, Preston said. Also, the goal is to keep units that have been deployed for one year at their home station for two years before deploying again, he said.
Improving quality of life while getting the mission done is what transformation is all about, Preston said, and the high retention rates the Army has been enjoying are proof of good morale and strong leadership. Going into its second deployment to Iraq, the 3rd Infantry Division had a 200 percent retention rate, and National Guard retention is higher than it's ever been, Preston said. This success can be attributed to a few different things, such as command climate and soldiers' belief in the mission in Iraq, he said.
"It's a real-world mission," he said. "Soldiers believe in what they're doing, and they can really see that they are making a difference over there."
Preston also discussed the new Army combat uniform, which he was sporting for the interview. Stryker Brigade soldiers wore the new uniform throughout the fielding and testing of the Stryker vehicle at Fort Lewis, Wash., and during the brigade's yearlong deployment to Iraq. The feedback received from these soldiers helped drive the evolution of the uniform and has reinforced the value of it, Preston said.
"Everybody likes it," he said. "It adds to the effectiveness of the soldier and what they're able to do out there on the ground."
The new uniform was designed by soldiers for soldiers, Preston said, and is geared toward combat operations. The uniform was designed to be worn under body armor, and the camouflage pattern works on all types of terrain, especially in urban environments, he said. The Velcro patches and name tags were inspired by Special Forces and reconnaissance teams, whose mission requires soldiers to remove identifying features from their uniforms, but the design has a much more practical benefit for all soldiers, Preston said.
"When a soldier goes home at night, he can take the patches and name tags off his uniform and put them on a clean uniform," he said. "And now all the money that they would've spent sewing all that stuff on their uniform goes back into their wallet."
Another money-saving feature of the ACU is the wrinkle-free treatment on the material, Preston said. This eliminates the need for soldiers to send their uniforms to the dry cleaners, which ultimately saves them money.
The Army's new uniform is just another piece of the overall transformation the Army is making to better accomplish its mission in the changing landscape. Preston said he is more proud than ever to be wearing the uniform of the armed forces and he wants soldiers to be proud of the job they do.
"All the soldiers, I always talk to them about being our nation's next greatest generation, and they really are," he said. "They're doing a magnificent job out there in the global war on terror and they represent Americans very well every day. They make us proud every day."